District 15, union back in court to decide if some employees can strike

 
 
Updated 10/24/2017 6:34 AM
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  • Catalina Aragon, front left, Yolanda Gilchrist and Inez Ramirez chant during a rally Sunday by Palatine Township Elementary District 15's Educational Support Personnel Association union members in a village parking lot along Northwest Highway. At least 500 picketers walked to District 15 administrative headquarters across the street before the start of a bargaining session.

      Catalina Aragon, front left, Yolanda Gilchrist and Inez Ramirez chant during a rally Sunday by Palatine Township Elementary District 15's Educational Support Personnel Association union members in a village parking lot along Northwest Highway. At least 500 picketers walked to District 15 administrative headquarters across the street before the start of a bargaining session. Gilbert R. Boucher II | Staff Photographer

Another court hearing is scheduled for Tuesday on whether striking nurses and special education classroom aides should be allowed to participate in a support employees strike at Palatine Township Elementary District 15.

Roughly 14 hours of contract talks between the district and Educational Support Personnel Association union ended without a deal early Monday. Negotiations, which are overseen by a federal mediator, are to resume Sunday, Oct. 29.

Heading into its seventh day Tuesday, the strike started with 454 members -- including nurses, special ed classroom aides, secretaries and clerical workers -- in the local affiliated with the Illinois Education Association.

But the number of strikers was reduced Oct. 17 when Cook County Judge Neil Cohen ruled in favor of a district complaint that sought injunctive relief and a temporary restraining order to prohibit "essential" workers from striking. He ordered the 168 striking nurses and special education classroom aides to return to work immediately.

IEA spokeswoman Bridget Shanahan said union attorneys Monday filed documents in circuit court as a formal answer challenging District 15's complaint. Cohen is slated to resume the hearing in the case Tuesday.

Court documents filed last week by the district say the "essential" 153 classroom aides and 15 nurses forced back to work provide health and safety services to students with severe medical conditions and disabilities. Their colleagues continued to picket Monday.

As for the negotiations, District 15 Superintendent Scott Thompson said the "board is committed to negotiating in good faith until a fair agreement to both (the union) and our District 15 taxpayers is reached." He said there are three outstanding issues to be negotiated and agreed upon.

"This has been an emotional time for our staff and community," Thompson said in a statement. "It is easy to put one side against the other, but I want to emphasize that we are all on the same team. We are all part of the District 15 family with a joint mission of providing an excellent education to our students."

Shanahan contended there was "absolutely no progress made" when Sunday's bargaining session concluded. She said the school board rejected requests to enter into third-party binding arbitration or hold public negotiations.

Under the currently available public document, District 15 was offering a five-year contract with a 1.85 percent increase in each of the first two years, and 1.85 percent to 2.25 percent annually for the three-year balance to coincide with the applicable tax cap.

The union was seeking a 2.5 percent annual wage hike in each year of a five-year deal, but Shanahan said it would generally amount to 10 to 25 cents more an hour. The union also has sought a $9,000-per-employee retirement benefit included in the contract that expired June 30.

Under the previous deal, District 15's wage scale had support employees starting at $11.30 an hour and going up to $37.76 per hour, depending on the job and years of employment. Talks on a new deal began in February.

Schools remain open for the district's roughly 12,800 students, in part because the teachers' contract doesn't allow them to honor the support employees' picket lines. The teachers union made a controversial 10-year deal with the district in 2016.

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